Straight powder ?
During centuries, medicinal plants were the only way to take care of the people’s health. Plants were considered as microcosm within a macrocosm and the therapeutic approach was always done globally, with a holistic vision.
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts” was the rule stated by Aristotle and later on by Ibn Sina (980-1037). Based on this statement, the plant is considered as a “whole” which is different than the sum of its components. So does the therapeutic action of the whole plant compared to every single active principle found in the plant. The totum is then defined as the all the active molecules found in the part of the plant used [1-2].
Pharmacologic notion about the totum
Thousand substances can be found in a single plant and each one of them is variably present inside the plant. Among those active principles (AP), it is often difficult to highlight the most important or efficient for a defined property. But in all situations, two features are worth to be noted:
Every AP will always be found with its precursors and its metabolites, which can also be own properties.
Every AP coexists with other AP but also with all other components of the plant, which are often essential, taking part for example to the enzymatic processes.
Sometimes, isolated AP doesn’t have any effect or the effect is limited. And when the AP is part of a group of molecules native to the medicinal plant, the effect is revealed.
This characteristic is explained by the conjugated and variable effects due to the possible synergy, potentiation and antagonism of the AP and to their bioavailability[3-5].
The two examples within the following table show us how the plant and its components are working together and, how sometimes, according to the expected therapeutic action, we will have to work with the totum to get the expected effect. In this case, a straight powder will be more interesting than a single AP.
Synergy and potentiation
of therapeutic action
|Common fumitory||Fumaria officinalis L.||Aerial parts|
|Simplified chemical composition|
Alkaloïds (protopine, fumaricine, fumariline, sanguinarine..), Flavonoïds, Organic acids (fumaric, malic, succinic..), Penol acids (chlorogenic acids, caffeix acid…), Potassium salts…
|Amphocholeretic is one of the well-established properties of the common fumitory. Some studies have proved that this property can be gotten only when all the constituents of the aerial part are together. When taken individually, the APs of the plant don’t have any hepatovesicular action.|
|Simplified chemical composition|
Alkaloids: morphine, thebaïne, papaverine and noscapine
|Morphine is analgesic, hypnotic and respiratory depressant. Thebain is exciting while papaverine and noscapine attenuate the respiratory depressant action of morphine.|
Thus, pharmacological effects of morphine are modulated by a wide range of alkaloids and give a slower and less pronounced action than morphine alone.
 Girre L. : Traditions et propriétés des plantes médicinales, Histoire de la pharmacopée, Privat, éditions de santé, Toulouse (FR), 1997<br>
 Magnin-Gonze J. : Histoire de la botanique, les références du naturaliste, Delachaux et Niestlé, Paris, 2004<br>
 Rombi M. : Phytothérapie, conseils et prescriptions, éd. Romart, Nice, 1994<br>
 Dr. Valnet J. : Docteur Nature, nouvelle édition revue et augmentée ; Fayard, Paris (FR), 1980<br>
 Girre L. : Plantes et Recherche de médicaments : Totum ou molécules ? Nouvelle revue de phytothérapie pratique,1998 (3) :3-8<br>
 Fiegel.et al.: An assesment of the potential of protopine to inhibit microsomal drug metabolising enzymes and prevent chemical-induced hepatotoxicity in rodents, in : la fumeterre, fumaria oficinalis ; Institut Européen des Substances végétales, www.iesv.org<br>
 Paris R, Moyse H, Université de Paris- Faculté de pharmacie : Abrégé de matière médicale, matières premières d’origine végétale, 6ème édition revue, Vigot Frères, Paris (FR), 1968 ; 64-65